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Classic Film Criticism

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*BEWITCHED (1945)*

 

From Agee on August 25, 1945:

 

Derived from a radio play, it is a melodrama about double personality. It uses voices and dialogue as profusely as if it were on the air. These interior voices are expressive and carefully timed. As a moving picture, BEWITCHED is at moments vigorous and at all times essentially lifeless. But the sensitiveness and charm of Phyllis Thaxter and the honesty and force of Horace McNally make it worth seeing.

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1st THE BODY SNATCHER

2nd THE NORTH STAR

3rd RIDING HIGH

4th THE UNFAITHFUL

5th HEAVEN CAN WAIT

6th WONDER MAN

7th NATIONAL VELVET

8th THE COMMANDOS STRIKE AT DAWN

9th DR. WASSELL

10th THE KILLERS

11th MOSS ROSE

12th X

13th X

14th X

15th X

16th X

17th X

18th X

19th HER HIGHNESS AND THE BELLBOY

20th HANGMEN ALSO DIE!

21st CLAUDIA

22nd THE KEYS OF THE KINGDOM

23rd FORT APACHE

24th CONFIDENTIAL AGENT

25th KISS OF DEATH

26th WHAT A WOMAN!

27th HAMLET

28th SAFETY LAST!

29th EASTER PARADE

30th THEY WON'T BELIEVE ME

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*THE BODY SNATCHER (1945)*

 

From Agee on September 29, 1945:

 

Self-contained and pleasingly toned and told is Lewton's recent horror film with Karloff, Lugosi and Henry Daniell. It, for all its charm and talent, is a little dull and bookish; but it explodes into a fine and poetic horror-climax, which, however, is sustained only for the last few minutes.

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*THE NORTH STAR (1943)*

 

From Agee on October 30, 1943:

 

Samuel Goldwyn's THE NORTH STAR is something to be seen more in sorrow than in anger. It represents Hollywood's noble, exciting, all but unprecedented intention to show the conduct of the inhabitants of a Russian border village during the first days of their war; and to show real people involved in realities encumbered with a minimum of star-spotlighting or story.

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*THE UNFAITHFUL (1947)*

 

From Agee on August 16, 1947:

 

THE UNFAITHFUL comes out against inadequately premeditated divorce and even suggests that a cuckold should try to understand and forgive his wife's adultery. It does not suggest, however, that he should ask her forgiveness for his far more contemptible failure to discipline his jealousy. And it dresses up what might have been good and plain, if rather immature, drama in some of the most superfluous plot-complications in years.

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*HEAVEN CAN WAIT (1943)*

 

From Agee on September 4, 1943:

 

Seeing Ernst Lubitsch's HEAVEN CAN WAIT was a little like hearing Louis Armstrong play at his present best. It brought back a time when people really made good movies. And I half believed Lubitsch could still do as well as he ever did.

 

HEAVEN CAN WAIT is not up to his best; nothing has been for nearly twenty years. But it looks like a jewel against the wood-silk and cellophane which passes for a moving picture now.

 

The sets, costumes and props are something for history. I have to speak of it with less authority than intuition, but I thought the period work was about the prettiest and the most quietly witty I had ever seen. The color was just as good; it was used with sensitiveness and wit. The script was hardly less accomplished, a beautifully set mosaic of clich?s. I saw nothing but good, anywhere, in the doll-like selection, manipulation and performance of the large cast. That does not surprise me in people like Charles Coburn and Louis Calhern and Laird Cregar, but when you find it also in Don Ameche and Gene Tiereny, amzed tribute is due somebody.

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*WONDER MAN (1945)*

 

From Agee on August 11, 1945:

 

WONDER MAN has little good in it beyond Danny Kaye who, however, is almost continuously on the screen. At his best Kaye suggests that he might be a much better comedian than he has yet become; at his loudest and blurriest he suggests that he may never become that good; but even at his worst he is more than good enough.

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*NATIONAL VELVET (1944)*

 

From Agee on December 23, 1944:

 

About a twelve-year-old girl in love with a horse. I think Elizabeth Taylor and the picture are wonderful, and I hardly know or care whether she can act or not. I am quite sure about Mickey Rooney: he is an extremely wise and moving actor.

 

There are still other good things about NATIONAL VELVET: the performance of Anne Revere as the girl's mother and of Donald Crisp as her father (except for their tedious habit of addressing each other as Mr. Brown and Mrs. Brown); the endearing appearance of Jackie Jenkins; and a number of gently pretty touches, mainly domestic, which may have been Clarence Brown's, who directed.

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*THE COMMANDOS STRIKE AT DAWN (1942)*

 

From Agee on January 23, 1943:

 

Paul Muni begins as a meteorologist widower and ends as a corpse. The film glorifies the common man, for Muni says, 'We Norwegians are a sturdy folk.' Its climax is a commando raid in which no point is made of the likelihood that every trick of fighting has its countertrick and that the enemy, having boned up on them, may not be entirely cooperative. Meanwhile, Lillian Gish, formal and archaic though she is, shows how far pictures have degenerated since her time.

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*THE STORY OF DR. WASSELL (1944)*

 

From Agee on June 10, 1944:

 

I like Gary Cooper, but God himself could not have made an appropriate film of DR. WASSELL. When the ship out of Java is strafed and a young woman is wounded, and her ankle is being bandaged, the occasion is used to slip in a discreet bit of leg art. That, I can promise you, is typical of every shot in the movie.

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*THE KILLERS (1946)*

 

From Agee on September 14, 1946:

 

THE KILLERS starts off with Ernest Hemingway's brilliant frightening story, then spends the next hour or so highlighting all that the story so much powerfully left in the dark. The dialogue, though generally skillful and talented, isn't within miles of Hemingway's in quality, but it is made to be seen as well as heard. There is a good strident feeling for tension, noise, sentiment and jazzed-up realism, all well manipulated by Robert Siodmak, which is probably chiefly to the credit of the producer, Mark Hellinger. There is nothing unique or even valuable about the picture, but energy combined with attention to form and detail doesn't turn up every day; neither does good entertainment.

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*MOSS ROSE (1947)*

 

From Agee on August 16, 1947:

 

English-turn-of-the-century, it is ornate and about murder. Peggy Cummins is famishingly pretty; and Ethel Barrymore has moments when her sardonic slip shows.

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*HER HIGHNESS AND THE BELLBOY (1945)*

 

From Agee on September 29, 1945:

 

A would-be Modern Fairy Story told with incredible heaviness and made only sporadically enjoyable through the friendliness of Robert Walker and Rags Ragland, the beauty of Hedy Lamarr and the sincerity of June Allyson.

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*HANGMEN ALSO DIE! (1943)*

 

From May 1, 1943:

 

The producers have chosen to use brutality, the American gangster idiom and German cinematic style to get the story across, and it is rich with melodrama, directional touches and sophistication for detail. It is most interesting as a memory album. The heroine is straight out of the Berlin of the middle twenties, and the Nazis are also archaic. The New Order has produced men of a new kind, though, and it would be more to the point to show some of them.

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*CLAUDIA (1943)*

 

From Agee on September 4, 1943:

 

It is very much worth seeing if you have a healthy mind and a sound stomach. What you see is a rather shrewdly lighted demonstration, on the part of a baby wife, an anthropophagous mother, and a gosh-all-Friday husband, of their fetal, and nationally archetypical incompetence to live; and it is so presented that the audience, in a grand passion of self-recognition, cackles with delight.

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*THE KEYS OF THE KINGDOM (1944)*

 

From Agee on January 6, 1945:

 

For a few days afterward, I liked it quite well for its sincerity and for what then seemed its reasonably clean effort to present a hero whose heroism is moral. As I think it over, much of the sincerity and the ethics seems beefy, over-comfortable, love-your-fellow-mannish, and in general rather uninteresting.

 

Also, I think it cheap to convince the audience that a priest's a male by giving him a sweetheart, then knocking her off in order to provide him with manly rather than godly reasons for spending the rest of the show in a cassock.

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*FORT APACHE (1948)*

 

From Agee on July 24, 1948:

 

American soldiers and Indians shortly after the Civil War. Shirley Temple and her husband, John Agar, handle the love interest as if they were sharing a soda-fountain special, and there is enough Irish comedy to make me wish Cromwell had done a more thorough job. All this is entirely appropriate to the story, which is the kind that would have a heroine named Philadelphia Thursday. However, John Ford directed it, and the Indian parleys and fights and a good deal of the camera work which sneaks by as incidental are somewhere near worth enduring the rest for. Henry Fonda does well, if thinly, as a megalomaniacal martinet.

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*CONFIDENTIAL AGENT (1945)*

 

From Agee on November 10, 1945:

 

A surprisingly serious translation of Graham Greene's thriller about a Spanish Republican who came to England to negotiate a coal deal for his government and ran into a kind of nightmare cartoon of cruelty.

 

Charles Boyer, imaginatively cast, gives the agent a proper balance of incongruous frailty, incompetence, tragic responsibility and moral courage. Lauren Bacall is still amateurish and she is about as English as Pocahontas. But her very individual vitality more than makes up for her deficiencies.

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*KISS OF DEATH (1947)*

 

From Agee on September 13, 1947:

 

KISS OF DEATH is another of Hollywood's locale movies. It is written, coldly and convincingly, by Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer. It is directed by Henry Hathaway and photographed by Norbert Brodine. The script, though expert, is certainly not inspired, and I can't believe that the director and cameraman are better than thoroughly competent. All of which makes KISS OF DEATH the more striking, for apparently if good technicians pay careful attention to the actual world, they can hardly help turning out a movie that is worth seeing.

 

Victor Mature is good as the burglar. Apparently, he needed nothing all this time but the right kind of role. For once, he has it.

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TB, not to say I don't appreciate the time and effort you take in bringing us this wonderful thread, but your snippet of Agee's review of Kiss Of Death below brings me to one of those times I ocassionally wish you'd post the more complete versions of his work...'cause I'd sure like to read what he thought of Widmark's star-making performance in that film.

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>I ocassionally wish you'd post the more complete versions of his work...'cause I'd sure like to read what he thought of Widmark's star-making performance in that film.

 

You're right, I made an editorial decision on that one. LOL

 

I omitted Agee's comparison of KISS OF DEATH with BOOMERANG because I had already posted about BOOMERANG in this thread. And I felt that Widmark's work in the picture has already been discussed at length by other sources.

 

In any case, here is what he said about Widmark, and this is all it was:

 

The fright and suspense of the closing sequences depend largely on the conception of the pathological Udo and on Richard Widmark's remarkable performance of the role. He is a rather frail fellow with maniacal eyes, who uses a sinister kind of falsetto baby talk laced with tittering laughs. It is clear that murder is one of the kindest things he is capable of.

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*WHAT A WOMAN! (1943)*

 

From Agee on December 18, 1943:

 

What a title! Rosalind Russell is a high-paid genius peddler who harpoons a college professor (Willard Parker) to play the romantic lead in a filmed best-selling pice of trash his fantasy life had spilled on to paper. Brian Aherne looks on and tells her that she is using only ten percent of her womanliness in the sort of life she leads. The professor goes gaga. I suppose it is amusing if, like me, you are at all likely to laugh at a kind of smartness on the screen which anyone would yawn at on Broadway. Either sophistication is highly relative to context or I am. I suspect, and had better worry about, the latter. Anyhow, some of the interiors are nice pieces of kidding.

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*HAMLET (1948)*

 

From Agee on June 28, 1948:

 

The screen is adequate to Shakespeare at his greatest, and Olivier's HAMLET is the proof. With this admirable filming of one of the most difficult of plays, the whole of Shakespeare's dramatic poetry is thrown wide open to good moviemakers.

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